THE NATURE OF FACTS

The Webster Dictionary defines a FACT as “the quality of being actual; something that has actual existence; a piece of information presented as having objective reality; something that hinges on evidence”. So when you say “in fact”, what you are hopefully saying is “in truth” because there is actual verifiable evidence to support what you say.

Recently our public discourse has seen the emergence of an interesting unconventional phrase, “alternative facts”, meant to indicate there really is such a thing and we are free to choose which set of facts we wish to accept.  While indeed there is a state of affairs where the potential facts concerning something are legitimately in dispute, let’s be clear: once we resolve the dispute, the facts, supported by actual evidence, are the only facts. Counter or alternative facts are make-believe, false representations of reality, or if you prefer, BS.

Many politicians, for example, have always engaged in a misleading representation of the facts meant to sway voters and win elections.  And who among us have not stretched the truth from time to time to further a specific aim.  But these prevarications are not alternative facts. They are simply lies, exaggerations, or pure BS intended to obscure facts potentially damaging to our cause.

The rub comes when we are talking about individuals in positions of authority: office holders, executives, managers, parents, teachers, physicians, lawyers, clergy, public servants, etc.  The lives and wellbeing of the rest of us often depend on authority figures to tell us the truth when we seek their input, no matter how unpalatable that truth.  And unless in dispute or legitimate doubt, there is but one set of facts.  In these cases, proffering the notion of alternative facts more to our or their liking becomes downright dangerous, unethical, and immoral.

We are all free to believe in what we choose.  We are not, however, psychologically or emotionally equipped to be constantly confused about what is fake and what is real.  A state of existence where we are routinely offered a choice between a range of alternative facts would be profoundly disorienting, emotionally traumatic, dangerous and chaotic.

Many have responded with humor to the recent discussions concerning “alternative facts”.  And whomever owns the publishing rights to George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984” that introduced the world to the concept of “newspeak” has to be delighted, because it is once again on the national Bestseller List in America. Those wondering why and unfamiliar with Orwell’s masterpiece, might benefit from its reading.  But the creeping insidiousness inherent in the notion that someone’s make-believe is actually fact, suggests that the faster the term disappears from our public and professional discourse, the better.

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